(The Canadian Press)

National data standards in the works after COVID-19 highlighted info gaps: Hajdu

More detailed data is needed to track how vulnerable certain populations are to the novel coronavirus

As Canadians see COVID-19 restrictions lifting, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says she believes the country is better prepared for a second wave of the novel coronavirus thanks to some difficult lessons learned over the last four months.

That includes efforts to improve the “fractured” way in which health data is collected by the provinces and territories, and how difficult it can be to have it reported to the federal level, Hajdu told a Senate committee Friday.

More detailed data is needed to track how vulnerable certain populations are to the novel coronavirus and where to focus efforts on testing, tracing and other supports, she said.

“That has been a weakness for us all along is our ability to actually understand what’s happening nationally,” Hajdu said.

That’s why federal officials are working on national standards for health data collection — and ensuring information is shared quickly with Ottawa — as part of ongoing negotiations with the provinces over $14 billion in new federal COVID-19 transfers.

When the COVID-19 outbreak first began, federal public health officials encountered roadblocks getting even basic epidemiological data from other jurisdictions to get a national picture of transmission rates, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told the committee.

She said this basic data is now coming more quickly, but officials are working on getting more detailed information about specific populations.

Raced-based data, including whether those being tested for COVID-19 have self-identified as First Nations, Inuit or Metis, has not been available at the federal level in part because not all jurisdictions have been collecting that information.

This is an area public health officials are now ”working very hard on,” Tam said.

“You may have seen some jurisdictions at the local level, such as Toronto, that are now collecting this data, which we hope to obtain,” she said.

“We are also engaging various partners to undertake specialized surveys and enhanced surveillance activities among key populations of interest, some of which are the racialized communities.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also partnered with Statistics Canada on a “ethno-cultural data dashboard” that Tam says will be released soon.

But some of the information still needed to better understand the impact of the virus on different communities cannot be obtained through surveys and surveillance, Tam added, which is why the agency is also working with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to co-ordinate academic research activities to further address the current data gaps.

Hajdu and Tam also reflected on the major learning curve for federal officials in trying to procure personal protective equipment at a time of a global surge in demand.

The national strategic stockpile of medical supplies was never meant to house mountains of personal protective equipment, Hajdu said, and provinces are responsible for maintaining their own stockpiles.

When it became clear a bulk procurement order would be needed to address shortages across the country, federal officials ran into roadblocks trying to get the information they needed from provinces and territories about exactly how much they might need.

“It took several government departments working with numerous provincial representatives to try and figure out the actual requirements, the rate of use and now, planning forward in a world that is still somewhat precarious in terms of ingredients and supply,” Tam said.

Finally, the federal government simply went ahead with a procurement order ”making some best estimates and assumptions about what we would likely need as a nation,” Hajdu said.

“Don’t forget that the crisis started in China and, incidentally, that is where a lot of the equipment is created, so of course this double whammy of having a crisis in a country where, in many ways, it is the largest provider of PPE for the world, created a really tight supply chain that trickled and rippled through the world,” Hajdu added.

Canada has since been ramping up its domestic manufacturing of personal protective equipment, testing agents and medical supplies to limit the country’s vulnerability to disrupted global supply chains in the case of future outbreaks.

“We are dramatically readier than we were during the outbreak because we have developed much stronger relationships with provinces, territories and local governments to make sure that we can act quickly when there is an outbreak,” Hajdu said.

Chief medical health offices across the country are now actively preparing for the possibility of a resurgence of the virus in the fall or winter, or perhaps even sooner.

This work also includes preparations to deal with the potential for simultaneous outbreaks of both COVID-19 and influenza, Tam said.

“We’re singularly focused right now in trying to do everything we can to prepare for any resurgence.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Where a five-point bull elk shot in a bow-only area near Sparwood. (Photo contributed by Conservation Officer Service.)
Conservation Officers seek info on bull elk shot in bow-only area

The five-point bull elk was shot near Sparwood on Oct. 18

The most recent council meeting was streamed via Zoom on Oct. 20. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
District of Sparwood revisits support for no-cost contraception

Representatives from Sparwood Contraception Access Advocates brough the matter back to council

COVID-19 test tube. (Contributed)
test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health launches online booking for COVID-19 tests

Testing is available to anyone with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

STA members and non-members alike are encouraged to send in photos of their trail adventures. (Photo contributed by Scott Tibballs)
Sparwood Trails Alliance fundraises for Lunch Loop

Trail adventurers are invited to submit photos of their adventures for an STA calendar

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Brody Peterson said he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Brody Peterson told The Gazette he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks RCMP recommend criminal charges after weekend party

Homeowner Brody Peterson said he’ll dispute tickets for refusing police instructions, alleged COVID violations

Jack Vellutini, 100, is still making sweet music. Photo: Submitted
Music stirs memories as Trail serenader nears 101st birthday

Jack Vellutini gave his brass instruments to Trail up-and-comers so the legacy of music can live on

BC ELECTION
B.C. political leaders reflect on rural health care as election looms

NDP leader John Horgan, BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson talk health care priorities in the Kootenays

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast their ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

A 2018 decision to fly a rainbow flag ended up costing the City of Langley $62,000 in legal fees (Langley Advance Times file)
Human rights win in rainbow flag fight cost B.C. city $62,000

“Lengthy and involved” process provoked by complaint

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Most Read